- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 12, 2009

When Georgetown signed Vee Sanford and Jerrelle Benimon on consecutive days in April, the national recruiting needle never flickered. Eight months later, the pair have joined Hollis Thompson on a freshman-centric bench to turn depth from an expected weakness to a blossoming strength for the 15th-ranked Hoyas.

“There’s no question that we have a chance to be deeper than people expected,” said coach John Thompson III, whose Hoyas (7-0) meet No. 17 Washington (6-1) on Saturday in the John Wooden Classic in Anaheim, Calif. “The development of those three freshmen has been and will continue to be key to that depth.”

As expected, Hollis Thompson (5.4 points, 2.9 rebounds) has emerged as the team’s sixth man. The 6-foot-7 swingman was a consensus top-50 recruit in the prep class of 2009. He graduated early from Los Angeles’ Loyola High School last December, enrolled at Georgetown and spent the meat of last season as a redshirt practice player.

But immediate contributions were not anticipated from Sanford and Benimon - at least not by recruiting insiders, who listed the former as a three-star guard well below the coveted top 100 and never even saw the latter.

“We had an idea with Hollis, obviously, because he was here practicing with us last year,” John Thompson said. “He doesn’t look like a freshman out there. He’s settled. But you never know with freshmen - no matter what kind of accolades they bring. With Vee and Jerrelle, however, we knew immediately once they got here that we had two guys we could use this season and two guys who have a chance to have really special careers at Georgetown.”

A first-team all-state shooting guard at Lexington (Ky.) Catholic who averaged 22.4 points as a senior, the 6-3 Sanford likely would have ended up at Kentucky if Billy Gillispie had remained as coach. But once John Calipari took over, Sanford became an afterthought as Calipari began his 11th-hour courtship of prep studs John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. So Sanford inked with the Hoyas.

Virtually no recruitniks saw Benimon, a brawny, 6-7 power forward who averaged 21 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists and four blocks for Fauquier High School in Warrenton, Va. Despite the gaudy numbers, Benimon was overlooked because he was dominating in the recruiting dead zone otherwise known as the I-66 corridor. Benimon might have been “discovered” on the AAU circuit, but he didn’t play the summer after his junior season because of an injury.

“Recruiting is a very inexact science. Just because the so-called experts and gurus rank guys number whatever doesn’t mean they’re right,” said Thompson, who has unearthed hidden gems before, including All-Big East point guard Jon Wallace. “Look, they don’t miss on the Greg Monroes and John Walls. But after the top few guys, there are literally hundreds of guys out there who could be great given the right fit.”

So what makes Thompson and others around the program giddy about the prospects of Sanford and Benimon? Well, first there was the rumor that Sanford dominated Georgetown’s preseason scrimmage with Virginia Tech.

“He tore us up,” coach Seth Greenberg confirmed. “After the game, I said, ‘OK, John, give. Who the hell is that kid?’ ”

Then there is the slowly expanding role of both players as Thompson begins to lengthen his bench with Benimon back after missing three games with a high ankle sprain. In the team’s most recent victory - 72-65 against No. 22 Butler on Tuesday - Sanford and Benimon played only six minutes combined, but they made them memorable.

“Vee steps on the floor at Madison Square Garden for the first time late in the first half of a tight game and immediately gets a steal and makes two free throws,” Thompson said. “Jerrelle makes his MSG debut in the second half when we’re really struggling on both ends and picks up three rebounds and maybe the most important bucket of the game in five minutes. Look, both of those guys have a long way to go, but that was impressive. Both have more presence than most freshmen.”

Benimon’s bucket, a board-crashing putback, halted a 12-2 Butler run and put the Hoyas up 56-47 with 8:12 remaining.

“I love the presence both of those guys have,” Thompson said. “It’s part basketball savvy and part effort. They work their butts off, and you’ve only just seen the first glimpses. They both have very bright futures.”

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